Elfridges at Selfridges
Need help when it comes to gift-buying? Selfridges has the answer: the 'Elfridge', your very own festive personal shopper. Katie Dailey gives her assistant a tricky test-run. Photography Rob Greig
Does the thought of festive shopping fill you with enough dread to prompt a midnight visit from the ghosts of past, present and future? Be not afeared, Selfridges is on hand with a delightfully silly service to help you face the season's retail challenges: an army of 'Elfridges'. That is, personal shoppers in jolly velvet get-ups who escort you round the shop, choose your prezzies, carry your coat while you browse and generally make you feel like you're really something. We tested their gift of giving with a tough family wishlist.
I warn in advance that he has every piece of Le Creuset in le range, and too many cookbooks spoil the broth. We head to the capacious kitchenware department, and my Elfridge suggests a complicated Spherification Kit by El Bulli (£89.95). I dismiss it as a use-once-then-store-next-to-the-breadmaker utensil. But then I U-turn by choosing a micro blowtorch for burning crème br˚lées, £29.95. 'Not one for children!' My Elfridge adds, perhaps unnecessarily.
ON BRIEF? Yes, but a little bit gimmicky: 7/10
AFFORDABLE? The blowtorch definitely is: 9/10
Selfridges sells just about everything, but strangely doesn't have a haberdashery department. A shame, as they can be handy when it comes to maternal gifting. Instead, my Elfridge ushers me to the book department, where we pick out a cute set that combines a nicely designed sewing book with making patterns for £20. It's cheap too, so I can throw in a lipstick or two.
ON BRIEF? It's perfect: 10/10
AFFORDABLE? Yes, very: 9/10
The 'no-plastic' people's kids
The offspring of snobby parents are impossible to buy for - the usual posse of alarmingly proportioned dolls won't work, and luxury clothing in fun sizes won't wash - or last. My Elfridge finds me some very cool T-shirts with a chalkboard panel and set of chalk, £19.99. The temptation to draw something rude on them is hard to resist, though.
ON BRIEF? Yep, great idea: 8/10
AFFORDABLE? I'd happily pay this: 10/10
When challenged with a present idea for a media-loving punter, my Elfridge comes up with the not quite devastatingly original suggestion of a DVD from the in-house HMV. We enlist help from a male Elfridge - or a Melf as he sportingly allows me to call him - who tracks me down some very slick headphones from Bang & Olufsen, £50, which look far more expensive than they are.
ON BRIEF? This one revealed a bit of a chink in the Elfridge's armour. Or rather, velvet. It took
a Melf to get inside a gadgety head: 5/10
AFFORDABLE? It's hard to get good gadgetry on the cheap, but we found a great-value buy: 9/10
Buying for a young lady was never going to be an issue in Selfridges - there's a vast beauty hall, and an affordable teen department with accessible labels like Monki and Topshop. Navigating it can be a faff, though, so my Elfridge charges straight to the Tatty Devine pop-up, where you can get a personalised name necklace made for under £30, in less than 20 minutes. Or perhaps something age-appropriate, like 'Team Jacob' or 'meow meow'.
ON BRIEF? It's difficult to please a teen but this might do it: 6/10
AFFORDABLE? A bespoke buy for £28: 10/10
THE VERDICT: A fun, free and easy way to do your Christmas shopping in one elf swoop. While an Elfridge is really just a personal shopper in a festive outfit, it's a generous service - you get at least an hour of one-to-one Elfridge time, and you're not obliged to buy any of their suggestions.
I could probably have found all of these gifts myself, but the less seasoned seasonal shopper might struggle with the sheer scale of department-store purchasing. So as far as customer services go, Selfridges have pulled off a cracker.
Book in advance at www.selfridges.com, or visit the Elfridges counter at the Wonder Room, Selfridges, 400 Oxford St, W1C 1JS.